On Sept. 28, U.S Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis visited AACC to tour the campus, meet with students and speak at a press conference to discuss the award of $500 million in national job training and retraining grants to U.S. colleges. AACC will lead a 10-college consortium in nine states as part of a $19.7 million grant to provide training in high-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Accompanied by Jane Oates, assistant secretary for Employment and Training, U.S. Department of Labor, Secretary Solis enjoyed the considerable time she was able to spend touring classrooms in the Center for Applied Learning and Technology with AACC president Dr. Martha A. Smith and Kelly Koermer, dean of the School of Business, Computing and Technical Studies. In addition to speaking with many AACC students about their studies, plans and dreams, as well as faculty, Secretary Solis also saw some of the engineering and design projects students were creating.
Before a room filled with elected officials, business leaders, faculty, staff, students and members of the media, AACC president Dr. Martha A. Smith opened the press conference by thanking Secretary Solis for making “our year.” As the college celebrates its 50th Anniversary, she also called the grant “the best birthday present so far.”
Dr. Smith went on to speak to the unprecedented partnership taking place between government at all levels, businesses and nearly a dozen community colleges. “This is exactly how it is supposed to work,” Dr. Smith said.
Other speakers included Fred Ferrer, director of Information Decision Dominance/Cyberspace for ARINC; AACC graduate Marlena Clark who went from working two minimum wage jobs to a career as a systems engineer after earning her associate’s degree in Information Systems Security; County Executive John Leopold; and Secretary Alexander Sanchez, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Secretary Solis concluded the conference, commenting on the vital role community colleges play in getting Americans back to work. “They provide equal access for everyone,” Solis said, adding that “education is the key to our economic growth.”
She also complimented the innovative teaching and programs she observed while touring the classrooms, and said she was glad AACC would be sharing these ideas and techniques with colleges across the country by developing training for in-demand industries.
A predominant theme echoing throughout the morning’s speeches and conversations was the importance of investing in people, like Marlena Clark.
Clark, now a systems engineer at Force3 knows she’s a success story. She knew she didn’t want to just continue surviving as a housekeeper and bartender for the rest of her life. She wanted more. She credits her training in the Information Assurance and Cybersecurity program with moving her into a career she enjoys where she is confident in her abilities and her future.
“I went from scrubbing floors on my hands and knees and pouring drinks to 1s and zeros,” Clark said. To a cheering room, she added, “I feel that AACC didn’t just give me a degree. It helped me find a career path.”